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The Egyptian army’s pivotal role

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

It is unlikely that we are seeing in Egypt what we have seen in Pakistan: generals seizing power at every national political crisis. Egypt will not be ruled by another general. Even former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak engaged in civil governance when they left the military. Pakistan has been dominated by the military, which to this day continues to govern publicly as well as secretly.

When the Jan. 25 revolution erupted, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, then-defense minister and commander-in-chief of Egypt’s armed forces, could have prolonged Mubarak’s governance for a few weeks or months, or even aborted the revolution. However, it was Tantawi who acknowledged the aspirations of Egyptians on the streets, so he decided to respond to them by toppling the president and forming a military council for governance.

Afterwards, it clearly appeared that the military was not professional. It did not have a plan to run the state, or a political agenda for governance. It became a target between the disputes of political parties, so it chose to escape by holding presidential elections before a new constitution was drafted. The military handed governance to Mohammed Mursi, who won over its retired colleague Ahmed Shafiq.

Misreading or misleading the army

Why has the Muslim Brotherhood wrongly interpreted the capability of the army? Because the former thought it had neutralized the latter when it isolated the military’s two most powerful figures, Tantawi and Sami Anan, and when they agreed not to touch the army’s budget. What will the military, which appears to suffer from a justified sensitivity, do now that they fear being accused of staging a military coup?

Instead of dealing with the presidency as a new experience to Egyptians, the Brotherhood has implemented the practices of the former presidencies, taking over prominent state positions in an operation dubbed “Brotherhoodization.” This has scared political parties, and has worried the military that blood will be spilled on the streets.

The army has promised a roadmap to overcome the crisis. This means that it has to specify a date for new presidential elections. The most difficult, but necessary, task is to convince Islamist parties to participate in the political process, and reassure them that they are part of Egypt’s present and future.

This must be done because the Brotherhood may prefer to reject constitutional amendments and early elections, and the resulting new government. This would make the transition difficult. The Islamists - the Brotherhood and Salafists - have proven that they are a large political mass that is hard to ignore.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 3, 2013.


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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.